I’m doing some spring cleaning, one part of which is a much-needed reorganization of the files on my hard drive. In the process I found some notes from my trip to the Balkans last summer.
Besim hurried out to us from under the awning of one of the countless tiny cafes lining Baščaršija Square. “Ladies,” he called, “you need a room, maybe?” We were the worst sort of travelers, trudging through the old part of the city under the weight of trendy hiking backpacks designed for treks at much higher altitudes. Besim’s advance spared us the embarrassment of winding our way through an endless maze of narrow cobblestone streets in search of a hostel that had once managed to impress the writer of our guidebook, and after a moment of whispered debate we agreed to see the room.
We followed him up a slick twist of stony stairs to his apartment, a two-floor collection of rooms filled with Persian rugs and hundreds of postcards from around the world. “From my tourists,” he said, beaming. “They send postcard to me from their home.” A field of sunflowers caught my eye; someone else from Kansas had liked her stay enough to write Besim and thank him.
He led us upstairs to the room, a breezy, open space with a terrace overlooking the city. He pointed to the hills across from us. “The war,” he started, then faltered, unable to find the English words for what he wanted to say. “Snipers. Broke all the glass.” We found out later that the room had been destroyed by Serbian mortar fire.
The morning we left, Besim made us Bosnian coffee and sat with us on the couch, sipping and smoking alternately. “You send me postcard,” he reminded us. “Drink from the fountain. You come back, you stay with me.”
I spent hours on the train between Sarajevo and Budapest scribbling in my notebook about how I would make it back to Bosnia before I’d finished grad school. I’m halfway done, and it hasn’t happened yet. I did manage to send Besim his postcard, though.